US commandos on the ground in Israel are helping locate more than 200 hostages seized during Hamas’ surprise cross-border attack on Oct. 7, the Pentagon’s top special operations official said Tuesday.
“We’re actively helping the Israelis do a number of things,” said Christopher P. Maier, assistant secretary of defense for special operations. conference in Washington. He said the main task was to help Israel “identify the hostages, including the American hostages. It’s really our responsibility to do that.”
Mr. Maier declined to say how many US special operations forces are currently in Israel. But other US officials say the Defense Department has sent several dozen commandos in recent days, in addition to a small team that was in Israel on Oct. 7 conducting previously scheduled training.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss operational matters, said the commandos would join the FBI, State Department and other US government hostage recovery experts in their talks with their Israeli counterparts.
US special operations forces have not been assigned any combat role in Israel, but they are discussing with their Israeli counterparts “what will be a very complex fight going forward” in Gaza, Mr. Maier said.
In talks with his Israeli counterpart, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin II stressed the need for careful consideration of how Israeli forces are conducting a ground invasion of Gaza, where Hamas maintains an intricate network of tunnels under densely populated areas.
“We will work with them as much as possible to help advise them on those types of activities,” Mr. Maier said.
Several Western countries have secretly moved small teams of their own special forces closer to Israel to assist in any potential rescue operation and to be nearby to assist in any large-scale evacuation of their citizens from Israel or Lebanon.
Mr. Maier said US special operations forces in the region were also ready “to help get our citizens out and to help keep our embassies safe.”